As one of the architects of the Town of Milton’s 10 straight years of 0 percent tax increases between 1993 and 2002, an initiative that has afforded Miltonians the lowest property taxes in the Greater Toronto Area to this day, I was extremely dismayed when a slim majority of Milton Council voted to increase taxes by more than 8 percent this year.
While I was disappointed with some of my Council colleagues, I didn’t blame them at the end of the day. They and, in particular, the new members of Council had walked into the perfect financial storm. The previous Council was guilty of not providing Town staff with very specific fiscal direction — something that will not happen this year. They had also spent a lot of money over the last eight years, creating a situation that isn’t sustainable. The 2019 Operating Budget was well-calculated political document but a poorly-crafted fiscal one. After reviewing it in late November 2018, I thought about bringing forward a motion at the first meeting of the new Council in December 2018 to send it back to staff with some very specific tax increase objectives. I didn’t and, in retrospect, I wish I had.
Following the approval of the 2019 Operating Budget, I thought long and hard about how I could ensure this never happened again. The solution to me was three-fold: intense financial and operational education provided to Council by Town staff in an open, informal and non-judgemental environment; the opportunity for Council and staff to engage in a frank discussion about each other’s vision for the future direction of the community; and mentorship provided by Mayor Gord Krantz and the more senior members of Council, including Milton Ward 1 Regional Councillor Colin Best, Milton Ward 2 Regional Councillor Rick Malboeuf and me.
As one of the new members of Council, Milton Ward 1 Councillor Kristina Tesser Derksen was similarly frustrated. We had a brief, frank conversation, worked together on a motion to make the financial/operational working group of Council a reality and, working closely with Town staff on the legal, logistical and topics specifics, put together a proposal that was unanimously supported by Council in late March. The working group of Councl held its second meeting in mid-June. CR